It’s all one big mission for Makenzie Tolson. There are different parts, but they’re all vital.
As a junior at Middletown Christian School, Tolson is a standout basketball player and student. Yet she has a deeper side, and it’s taken her far, far away from home.
“Some kids just come to MCS because their parents make them,” Tolson said. “But most kids here really love Jesus and want to give and do things. This isn’t a joke. This is life and what’ll happen after.”
The basketball side is working just fine for the 5-foot-6 guard. She’s already the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer with 762 points, leaving 2004 graduate Leah O’Bradovic and her previous-record 663 points in the dust.
Tolson is averaging 16.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 steals and 2.5 assists per game for Middletown Christian, which is 5-6 overall and 3-2 in the Metro Buckeye Conference.
The record may not be great, at least until you consider the fact the MCS nearly cancelled its season due to a lack of players.
Tolson lives in Somerville. If Middletown Christian had shut down its program, she would’ve transferred to Preble Shawnee and sat out half the season before becoming eligible.
But the Eagles are alive and well, and Tolson — who’s started every game since her freshman year — is the undisputed leader.
“I think Makenzie would be any coach’s idea of a player,” said third-year MCS coach Brent Tolson, her father. “She can take criticism, she can take encouragement, and it’s all the same with her.
“She’s had to face double teams, box-and-ones, face guarding … you would never know if we’re winning or losing if you looked at her. She’s always calm.”
Tolson said she’s evolved as a player.
“Freshman year, I would mainly focus on penetrating and getting to the basket. Over half my points were just from free throws,” she said. “Sophomore year, teams started packing in the paint, so I had to learn to shoot outside. Now I try to be a perimeter and penetrating threat.
“I like assists as much as points. If someone’s open, I’m going to pass it. I don’t even think about it. It’s all about winning as a team. It’s not about an individual. If you lose, no one cares about your stats.”
Tolson has very few individual goals. One is to reach 1,000 points. Barring a serious injury, that appears inevitable during her MCS career.
She wants to play in college. Somewhere, anywhere. It’s not easy to get noticed at a small school like Middletown Christian, but slowly, surely, it’s happening.
There are other things to get done. Specifically, more mission trips. She’s already taken two, to Peru (between her eighth- and ninth-grade years) and Guatemala (last summer).
In Peru, she helped build a church and paint a schoolhouse.
In Guatemala, she became a house-building expert.
OK, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But she was there for a couple weeks, hammer in hand, pounding nails, interacting with children.
“It just opens your eyes. You see how the world really is and that we live in a bubble,” Tolson said. “I thought I wouldn’t like it because it would be dirty and I couldn’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t really talk to anybody. But I loved it.”
The trips are arranged through her church, the Breiel Boulevard First Church of God in Middletown. The Guatemala trip is obviously more fresh in her mind. She estimates 60 people went on that trip, including her parents.
“I think we built eight houses in two weeks,” Tolson said. “It’s really cool talking to all the kids, in broken English obviously, and just trying to play charades and getting to know them.”
The language barrier was a problem, but it didn’t halt communication. She said some children would mimic the visiting Americans and learn bits of English that way.
The house building was done in the Guatemalan countryside. She had a nice place to stay (her trip to Peru included no flushable toilets), but they covered dirt roads and fields to get where they were needed to go on a daily basis.
“It’s a spiritual thing when you’re wanting to go help and spread Jesus around, but then it’s exciting that you’re actually building a house for somebody,” Tolson said.
She met a little boy named Edgar. He was maybe 6 years old, and she noticed that his shoes weren’t in very good shape. Kids around him noticed as well.
“The tops were totally out. You could see his toes, and they don’t have socks,” Tolson said. “I saw kids pointing at him and laughing at his shoes.
“So when we were done working, they were walking with us. He was holding my hand, and I just took off my shoes and gave them to him. He hugged me and asked for a photo, so we took a picture of him holding my shoes and smiling.”
It’s one of those tender moments that won’t be forgotten. Her father remembers too.
“She’s a giver,” Brent Tolson said. “That’s the kind of kid I love.”
Makenzie said the goal is to make a mission trip every three years. Ecuador could be her next stop.
For now, she’s just a normal student-athlete at a small Christian school. Her 17th birthday isn’t far off. It’s sports and academics and faith, not necessarily in that order.
“I just like to say I’m thankful and want to give God all the glory,” Tolson said. “I think that’s all I need to say.”
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